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Immigration policy change: from humanism to pragmatism

| Text: Berit Kvam, Photo: Christoffer Landgren

The term refugee could be disappearing. People are deemed immigrants and allowed in if a country feels they could be useful. Current demography dictates a stimulation of labour immigration, while asylum policies are being tightened. Europe's migration policy is changing shape.

Europe's migration patterns are changing, according to the EU expert meeting "Integration of New Arrivals - Incentives and Work in Focus", held in Malmø between 15 and 16 December 2009.

Permanent Secretary for the Danish Integration Ministry, Claes Nilas, explained  how things had changed between 2003 and 2008 in terms of who and how many had been granted permits of stay in Denmark.

There's been a clear trend - a marked increase in the number of labour immigrants, students and citizens from other EU/EEA countries who have been granted permits of stay in Denmark, and a clear fall in the number people granted family reunion, asylum or humanitarian stay.  

Claes Nilas also said Denmark actively seeks more qualified foreigners who can be swiftly integrated at work or through education. The government also wants more immigrants to improve their language skills, fewer immigrants left outside the labour market and a better integration of immigrants into Danish society. To achieve a better integration rate the government is increasing its use of incentives and puts more emphasis on results.

Just over a year ago the then Minister of Employment, Claus Hjorth Frederiksen, said there were fewer unemployed in Denmark than could fit inside the Copenhagen stadium. Since the economic crisis unemployment has rocketed. But it is not expected to last. Europe's demographic development means many countries are now hunting for qualified labour immigrants.

At the EU expert meeting on integration of new arrivals many pointed to a policy change in several European countries - from a humanitarian perspective to satisfying national labour needs.

Constantinos Fotakis, migration co-ordinator in the EU Commission, quoted French President Nicolas Sarkozy: Une migration choisie - une migration réussie; a chosen migration is a successful migration. Don't simply look at the number of people, he said - we mustn't believe there is no discrimination between labour immigrants and asylum seekers. He doesn't believe any country would refuse humanitarian refugees, but points out you can already see how the total mix is about to change.

"The balance between humanitarian and utilitarian migration is changing."

There are signs that countries not only choose their labour immigrants, but they also want to pick the right refugees from UN refugee camps.

"Sweden has not changed its attitude," said Angeles Bermudez-Svankvist, director general at the Swedish Public Employment Service. She is in charge of the reforms needed for the new integration policy which will come into effect in December 2010.

"We aim for an individual approach and prepare to work in a different way than we're used to," she said.

"Working is a human right and we must appreciate the added value a job has to people's health."

But at this conference she too saw a new tendency to change migration policies in many countries. It's a tendency that worries her.

"I'm worried we'll see a change from a humanitarian to an economical perspective.

"I also sense that attitudes to migration issues have hardened. I fear we could see more phobias against religions which could polarise society in a dangerous way."


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